The Eagles had their third OTA of the offseason on Thursday and practice was open to the media. Here are some observations upon viewing the 2014 Eagles on the field for the first time:
-- To some surprise – or none, if you’re not a Matt Barkley fan – Mark Sanchez was the second team quarterback. The Eagles weren’t sure how much throwing the former New York Jet could do at this point, but Chip Kelly said before practice that Sanchez was not limited. Sanchez had surgery to correct a torn labrum last preseason and missed all of 2013. The Eagles signed him to a one-year contract in March. Kelly said that the backup quarterback competition would be a good one, so it’s way too early to award Sanchez the spot.
-- None of the quarterbacks looked especially sharp, but it was obviously a small sample. Nick Foles wasn’t helped by two Cooper drops. They did hook up later for a deep pass. Sanchez woefully misfired on a bubble screen. One Jets scribed told me recently that Sanchez struggled with the screen game in New York. I asked Kelly about Barkley’s arm and whether there was a big difference in strength a year later. Barkley suffered a shoulder injury late in his senior season at Southern Cal that the Eagles said affected him last spring. Kelly said that his arm strength has improved but that there wasn’t a significant change.
-- Wide receiver Jordan Matthews was excused from practice to travel to the NFLPA Rookie Premiere symposium in Los Angeles. One rookie from every team attends. He was the one rookie I was most looking forward to watching. Riley Cooper told me that Matthews had been mostly running with the first team as the slot receiver during the first two practices. Brad Smith was in his place for most of today. Rookie safety Ed Reynolds, who still has to graduate from Stanford before he can practice, was the only missing player from the 90-man roster as far as I could tell.
Who’s the better backup QB?
-- Mychal Kendricks didn’t do much at practice. He was dressed and had a helmet, but also had his right knee bandaged up. Kendricks had surgery on his thumb in the offseason. Najee Goode took his spot with the first team at inside linebacker alongside DeMeco Ryans. Wide receiver Jeff Maehl watched most of practice, too. The Eagles have yet to confirm if either player was injured.
-- It’s always a little weird attending the first open practice and getting used to all the new faces, some wearing numbers worn by former Eagles. So when No. 10 jogged by and the player had dreadlocks sticking out the back of his helmet, I had to do a double take. Yes, DeSean Jackson is no longer on the team -- in case you haven’t heard -- and undrafted rookie receiver Quron Pratt is currently wearing his former number. It’s still a long shot anyone will wear No. 10 this coming season. The other notable missing former Eagle was Michael Vick, who certainly had an aura whenever on the practice field. No current player took the No. 7.
-- Kelly was asked about the difference between this year and last in terms of how far along the team was in learning his system and he said, “It’s light years.” He added that the tempo was quicker and I would have to agree, at least based on today’s session.
-- For those interested in the depth chart, or at least what constitutes as one in May, the starting base defense was the same as the end of last season, except for the addition of safety Malcolm Jenkins for the departed Patrick Chung. Nate Allen started out ahead of Earl Wolff at the other safety spot. That’s one of the primary starting position battles heading into training camp. On offense, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was, of course, at Jackson’s old spot. The Eagles didn’t run many plays with two tight-end sets or two running back sets with LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles on the field at the same time. It’s still very early as the Eagles go about installing and updating the offense.
-- I couldn’t keep track of all the players on the second and third units, but here’s how the Eagles looked at certain positions: Bryan Braman (2d team) and first round rookie Marcus Smith (3d) backed up “Jack” OLB Connor Barwin; Brandon Graham (2d) and Travis Long (3d) backed up “Predator” OLB Trent Cole. Chris Maragos was alongside Wolff at second-team safety. Brandon Boykin and Nolan Carroll were the second-team outside cornerbacks. Carroll made perhaps the defensive play of the day when he zoomed across the field to break up a Sanchez throw. Rookie Jaylen Watkins and Roc Carmichael were the third-team corners. Damion Square (2d) and rookie Beau Allen (3d) backed up nose tackle Bennie Logan.
-- While Kelly agreed that he has a better understanding of his players in terms of the depth chart this time of the offseason as opposed to a year when he said it was more of a seating chart, there was still plenty of shuffling of personnel within the first, second and teams. Joe Kruger, for instance, took a number of repetitions at left defensive end with the first unit in place of Cedric Thornton. Kruger spent all of his rookie season on IR last year. Rookie wide receiver Josh Huff was on the field with the starting offense for a number of plays.
-- Kelly briefly stopped practice and huddled all the players in the middle of the field for a brief talk. A number of players had been slipping and falling to the turf – or being pushed to the ground – and it seemed as if the coach was addressing the issue, especially in light of the Cowboys LB Sean Lee tearing his ACL earlier this week. As the huddle broke it sounded as if Kelly said something like, “You guys should know how to play when it’s wet.”
-- The Eagles kept five quarterbacks on the roster deep into August last year. This year, they have only four – Foles, Sanchez, Barkley and G.J. Kinne -- at the start of OTAs. Kelly still has his nifty five-quarterbacks-throwing-at-the-same-time drill, but he filled in as the fifth thrower as he did during last season.